The Perspective

Rethink Your Drink

Would you drink a cup of sugar? Would you eat 100 pounds of sugar?

Surprisingly enough . . . you might be doing just that.

Sugar sweetened beverages – any beverage that has a caloric sweetener added to it - are the single largest source of added sugars in the American diet. The average American consumes nearly 42 gallons of sweetened beverages a year – the equivalent of 39 pounds of extra sugar.

To help Southern Nevadans identify where they could be getting all of this extra sugar, the Southern Nevada Health District launched its third Soda Free Summer initiative. Originally created by the Alameda County Public Health Department, Soda Free Summer encourages people to consume more water and rethink their beverage choices. An app called Sugar Savvy can be downloaded from the Apple Store for iOS devices or Google Play for Android. Visit for additional information.

"The goal of Soda Free Summer is to make people aware of the liquid calories they're consuming as well as what is added to their drinks. We want everyone to be an educated consumer as well as a healthy one," said Aurora Buffington, a health educator and licensed registered dietitian nutritionist at the Southern Nevada Health District. "We know that sports drinks, soda and other sweetened drinks are heavily marketed, and our goal is offer additional information and help people make healthier choices."

Sugar sweetened beverages also include sports drinks, sweetened teas, energy drinks and fruit drinks. The program offers adults and kids ways to look at what they're consuming, track what they're drinking, and assist in ways to switch to healthier options.

The health district's Office of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion encourages consumers to look at the sugar content listed under total carbohydrates on the nutrition label.  Consumers are also encouraged to learn the key words associated with added sugar – such as agave, molasses, corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, or fruit juice concentrate, which may be found on the list of ingredients.

Fruit juice concentrate? An added sugar? "Fruit juice is a little tricky, said Buffington. "Although the sweetness of fruit juice comes from natural sugar, it is highly concentrated, so a piece of fruit is better. Many people drink more than the recommended maximum serving of fruit juice, which is one eight-ounce serving a day – 4 ounces or less for children. Unless the juice is 100 percent fruit, it's still considered a sweetened beverage. This is one of the key pieces of information we want to share with people . . . to check the nutrition label and to identify where they could be getting extra sugar."

The American Heart Association advises that men should consume no more than nine teaspoons of sugar a day and for women, the number is six. For a little perspective . . . there are 16 teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce bottle of regular soda.

Added sugar may contribute to tooth decay – no surprise there – but also may be related to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. Adults and children may reduce their risk of these chronic illnesses by making healthier beverage choices. Cutting out one can of soda per day can reduce caloric intake by about 150 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar. Healthier drink choices include water, fat-free or 1 percent milk, seltzer or unsweetened tea or coffee.

How do Nevadans rate? According to the 2012 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), Nevadans between the ages of 18 and 34 consume more sugary fruit drinks than their counterparts in all states, except Mississippi. In addition: soda math

  • 36.3 percent of Nevada adults drink at least one soda or fruit drink per day; the national average is 26.3 percent
  • 30.2 percent of black/non-Hispanic adults in Nevada consume at least one soda per day; the national average among black/non-Hispanic adults is 20.9 percent
  • 32.2 percent of Hispanic adults in Nevada consume at least one soda per day; the national average among Hispanic adults is 22.6 percent

In the past 40 years, portion sizes and consumption of sugary beverages have increased. Research has found a link between the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and higher rates of obesity, oral health problems and overall poor diets. More recently, sugary beverages have been linked to heart disease according to a study by the University of California, Davis.

For information about Soda Free Summer or tips to switch to healthier beverages, visit

How much is that?  Since sugar is listed in grams it may be easily converted to teaspoons by dividing grams by 4; for example a 12 ounce soda typically contains 40 grams of sugar and 40/4 = 10 teaspoons.

There is some good news! According to the 2013 BRFSS, teens are drinking fewer sugary drinks:



The health district's Get Healthy Clark County website can help you identify added sugar in your beverages here Sugar Sweetened Beverages and you can 'rethink your drink check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Cutting Calories.

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